New roles are old hat for TV actors STAYING IN CHARACTER

October 22, 1993|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Staff Writer

What's Miles' girlfriend doing taking care of Frasier's father? What are Eli and Denise doing an entire continent away from the IRT? And why is that Designing Woman from Atlanta manning the kitchen of a restaurant in New York?

What's going on here?

TV characters increasingly are traveling into the alternate universes of shows other than their own.

Often, it's a one-shot thing, a TV character making a quick cameo on another show. Other times, it's a matter of a TV character making such a strong impression, he or she turns up again and again -- in a different show, with a different name but essentially playing the same character. (Doesn't Mr. Feeny of this season's "Boy Meets World," for example, really remind you of Dr. Craig from the old "St. Elsewhere"? Actually, they're both William Daniels.)

With the particularly heavy cross-pollination going on during this still-new fall season, here's a guide to who's where and what's what. Looking for a forwarding address for your favorite characters, now that their old series have been canceled? Wondering where or when you last saw that vaguely familiar character?

Get out your score cards.

* Familiarity breeds "Frasier"

Not only is the title character a refugee from another show -- the late "Cheers" -- the rest of its cast seems to have been plucked from all sorts of other sitcoms, dead and alive.

Frasier, the psychiatrist who hung out at the Cheers bar in Boston, has moved back to his native Seattle after his divorce from the chilly Lilith. Frasier's aging father comes to live with him, prompting the need for a home care worker: Enter a daffy English woman played by Jane Leeves, who formerly played Miles' daffy English girlfriend on "Murphy Brown."

And Frasier's brother is played by David Hyde Pierce, reprising the sort of character he played on the short-lived "Powers That Be" from last season: He's unhappily (if comically) married to the "right" kind of woman, but attracted to the "wrong" kind (read: household help). Provincial local note: Mr. Pierce also played a Peabody Conservatory musicologist and brother to Meg Ryan's Baltimore Sun reporter in the movie, "Sleepless in Seattle," and he looked none too happy there either.

Appropriately enough, Frasier himself has visited other shows in the past -- actor Kelsey Grammer even was nominated for an Emmy for a cameo he did on "Wings" last year, in which the "Cheers" shrink turned up as a "Wings" passenger.

* Hills Brothers

"Hill Street Blues" lamentably is gone, but Detective Norman Buntz lives. He's been reincarnated as Detective Andy Sipowicz of "NYPD blue." essentially, though, sipowicz is buntz redux, with actor Dennis Franz playing yet another half-crazed rogue cop willing to break the law in the course of enforcing it. As long as Steven Bochco keeps creating cop shows, Mr. Franz will never have to worry about unemployment.

And while "NYPD Blue" has gotten all the attention this year -- its nudity and profanity has drawn protests from some groups -- another "Hill Street" alum has returned more quietly this season. Daniel J. Travanti, though, has done less well in his move: The beloved Captain Furillo of "Hill Street" is now the deservedly less-beloved Lieutenant McAuliffe, of the Chicago P.D.'s "Missing Persons" unit. Suspiciously, though, "Missing Persons" itself soon could be missing in action -- as in, headed toward Cancellation City.

* Legal maneuvers

Small world. Turns out that the huggable Eli, the "Civil Wars" lawyer who went bonkers after handling too many divorce squabbles, is a cousin of that equally lovable mensch, Stuart Markowitz of "L.A. Law."

After "Civil Wars" got canceled last season, it was only a matter of time before Eli (played by Alan Rosenberg) found himself at cousin Stuart's law firm. After all, former "Civil Wars" executive producer William Finkelstein is now in charge of "L.A. Law."

And small world, Part II: The Queens-squawking secretary from "Civil Wars," the always wonderfully decked-out and made-up Denise, just happens to have moved to L.A. herself after a between-TV-seasons divorce from her bicycle messenger/poet husband. Turns out there's a job for Denise (Debi Mazar in real life) at McKenzie, Brackman too!

Weirdly flavored bagels and car co-dependency notwithstanding, L.A. -- and "L.A. Law" -- looks like a perfect fit for these New York emigres.

* All's fair in "Love & War"

After one season, the dreary Susan Dey character moved to France, leaving behind her series, "Love & War"; her restaurant, the Blue Shamrock; and her guy, Jay Thomas.

Stepping in on all three is the sassy Annie Potts. You might not have recognized her at first, though, until she opened her mouth and that familiar twang came out. As one of the "Designing Women" of Atlanta, she had the appropriate big hair of the South but now, befitting her move up to the Big Apple, she has a chic, closely cropped brunet do.

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